Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Thesimplestgame is currently working on some rather dramatic (for us anyway) changes in format. I know. Sounds really exciting. It's not really.

We can only apologies for the somewhat prolonged, or, you could say, slightly frozen, service of late and assure you that issues of intermittency will be resolved as soon as poss. The new changes will be rolled out when they're done. It might take some time though, so please bear with us. We might even do something about the pishy patter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Have ye got a pair of boots?

The first paid football players were Scottish. They emerged out of the mists on the rain soaked border to show the English how it was done. I like that. I like it a lot. It might reinforce myths concerning the Scot’s financial shrewdness, maybe not those working for the Bank of Scotland right enough, but I like to think it was because they were so skilled or at least skilled enough to warrant payment. I’m not ruling out the combination option, but the point stands – at least once in the history of the beautiful game, the Scots were considered to be very good, maybe even the best.

Since then, before you say it… things have changed a little. A helluva lot, actually. Yes, sadly it seems we’ve been getting progressively worse since those glorious halcyon days. The lowest point, worse than Ally McLeod’s late 70s combover and nationwide humiliation, came under the stewardship of a horrible wee German - no the other one - Berti Vogts. He steered us into some serious trouble. Enough to arouse suspicions about his real motives.

Even before that though, things had taken a turn for the worst. The stalwarts all retired, Goram gave up gambling and didn’t need the cash, Wee Baz wouldn’t play with Lambie and cheeky chappy Coisty got too heavy to lace his own boots. We’d also unhappily started on the Jackie Charlton management plan. Surprisingly, handing a pair of badly polished Umbro boots to any player who’d been near a plate o’ haggis, tatties ’n neeps, an empty Irn Bru bottle or had been seen waiting outside their local chip shop for a battered mars bar supper, is still proving to be as stable a proposition as making an investment in a US bank.

Recruitment aside, our world ranking unceremoniously dropped to 254th. One place above Burkina Faso. It prompted a Scottish national daily newspaper to pose the following question…
What’s the difference between Scotland and Burkina Faso? One’s a football backwater the other is a small country in Africa.
Now obviously thesimplestgame don’t want to be knocking an entire African nation or their footballing prowess. Professional players in Burkina get paid less than 30 pound a week apparently - less than it would cost to rap one of Wayne Rooney’s ears in brown paper. Burkina Faso is not a culturally impoverished country. It hosts one of the world’s most celebrated film festivals and, importantly, football is the favourite national pastime of the "men of integrity". Their poorly financed professional game is in 'development'. It’s not even 50 years old yet. It’s a different story for Scotland. To go from the very origins of professional football to not even being in the top 250 rankings was a blow even the most tartan spectacled fans couldn’t help making light of. Today, things are on the up, we were even in the world's top ten for a couple of weeks, yet we've failed to qualify for a major tournament in over a decade.

Now this is a site dedicated to football fiction, so it is with a mixture of pride and dismay that we discovered of the earliest examples of football fiction, including Tom Brown’s Days at Oxford in 1861 and PG Wodehouse’s Psmith and Mike in 1910, only Arnold Bennett’s The Card in 1911 features professional footballers, not much of a stretch considering the advent of the sport's professionalism only occurred a couple of years earlier. From an academic point of view this is what makes us happy. The dismay comes in that so few of the players in his work were Scottish (none - I think I need to check). Is it a legimate criticism to hold against the Yorkshireman? Some would say it is. Still we feel there’s a definitely place for his work on the football shelf before any of his pioneering peers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

staff boundaries

I was in a large bookshop yesterday. For the sake of the story, we’ll call it Boundaries. Hey, before you throw down in disgust. Try it. It makes you feel much better about shopping in your favourite independent bookshop. Boundaries has lots of books. A lot. A really good selection. But then, they should have. It’s a feckin BIG shop and maybe that’s why it’s kind of expensive, but maybe it's not. I'm talking expensive compared to independent bookshop prices. Take Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends. $32.95 in yer local independent. $57 in Boundaries. I mean Really? Is there any need for that shit. I thought the idea of the corporate homogeneity is larger volume, cheaper prices. The Indies can be more expensive than chain-store equivalents sometimes, but at least you get the benefit of informed, interested staff who generally know what they’re talking about. In chain-world this is the exception rather than the rule, but we get it and we even accept it. The indies want you to come back because they like it so, so much they want you to do the same.

Boundaries isn’t always more expensive, mind. There are exceptions. The ugly spine of ‘fast book nation’ mentalities coupled with economies of scale allow for the notorious 3-for-the-price-2-deal. A bargain? It would be except there’s only ever really one book you want. There’s maybe one other, but it’s a half-interest; a might read if you ever get done reading the things you want to read. The rest you’ve either read already or never will. It’s the ‘more you spend the more you save’ sham. Still it must work for some people and charities like Lifeline definitely benefit.

Before I go on I should declare my part-time employment in a particularly good indie in Brisbane. This is hardly an objective piece, BUT were I otherwise employed, I’m confident I’d make the same observations.

While I was in Boundaries, I asked a staff member at the counter if there was a sports fiction section? He looked at me like I’d asked him if I could poo in his shoe. “You what, mate?” he says.
I said, “Sports fiction – fiction with sport in it. D’you have any books or even a section of sports fiction?” He looked at me the way people look in empty plastic bags, when they know there’s nothing in them. They’re done with them. Only good for drowning seagulls now.
So I said, “You know books that are fictional and have sport in them?”
He actually scratched his head.

Now the first time, it could well have been my lilting Scottish brogue that confused him. The second time maybe too. But the third time I said it like I was patronising a non-English speaker. Hand signals and everything. “You know? Books…that…Ah rrre …phic shon al …annnDD… have… sssspoarrrt… iiinnn… tthem?” I said it the way Lee Majors ran after he’d had the $6million dollar operation, a bit of creaking and a lot of slow motion.
A solid wall of blankness.
It was disconcerting.
Another scratch and a flicker of light intruded into the empty space in his eyes. He said, “There’s some sports books upstairs mate.”
He was right. But they were all non-fiction. I said, “Yeah thanks.”

What chance do I have of establishing football fiction as a genre if the staff at one of the city’s largest bookshops cannot imagine that a thing like sports fiction exists?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A floating green zone of fantasy

The title of this post is taken from The Global Game. I think it's relevant to all football fiction, but it works well for this week football fiction subject. Comics. How good were, no, are they?

My first experience of the wonder, romance and let's be honest no small amount of nonsense of football fiction was in comic book stories like those in Tiger (1954-1985) and Eagle (1950-1994), where star quality football stories like Billy’s Boots, filled with Dead-shot Dean’s football magic, won him all the games and scored all the goals he really needed to score. What I would have done for a pair of those incredible boots. The closest I got to a pair was the wobbly boots on a saturday night.

Hotshot Hamish has been reprised in one of Scotland's most popular weekly Scottish national newspapers - The Sunday Mail (I said popular I never said worthy). Still it warms the cockles knowing a whole new generation will be able to experience the power of Hamish's size 16. He could smash a canon ball shot straight through a steel plated A-team built vehicle without so much as a pity the fool - and he's Scottish. His team mate highlanders, including the insanely goofy Mighty Mouse, benefitted from the big man's big toes more than once.

Roy of the Rovers, possibly the most famous of all the football comic strip characters, is also still being produced in a number of fanzines as far as I'm aware. More gifted than Best, Pele, Ronaldhino and Michael Flatley combined Roy could do anthing with a ball. The comic ran through Roy's incredible career, management jobs included and then even soapily involved his son's adventures. As far as I'm aware, they followed the great tradition of famous footballer's sons the world over, in that he failed to capture his father's acclaimed success or any of his ability. Still he managed a career - which is more than can be said for my own game.

Striker, The Sun newspaper's long standing football player comic leaned toward the adult end of the market, ye know more tragic footballer's wives than wizened old boots with any magic in them. Particularly when it changed to 3D in an effort to keep up with the times. If nothing else it was a series which was remarkable for its unremarkableness.

There are many others. Football comics first appeared with regularity in the early 1920's, but that's a blog for another day.

It was long before I moved to books, novels mostly, only to be haunted by the lack of football. It seemed there were no football novels. Things may have changed a little, but it's a little and I'd like to go some way to putting those ghosts to rest in the creative practice parts of my PhD.